Criminalizing China

82 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2020 Last revised: 2 Mar 2021

Date Written: March 1, 2021


The Department of Justice launched the China Initiative in November 2018 to counter national security threats emanating from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). By June 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had approximately two thousand active investigations under the Initiative.

People and entities with connections to the PRC’s governing party-state structure have engaged in trade secret theft and other crimes under U.S. law. The Department of Justice is not making up a threat. It is, however, framing that threat in a problematic way.

This Article argues that using “China” as the glue connecting cases prosecuted under the Initiative’s umbrella creates an overinclusive conception of the threat and attaches a criminal taint to entities that possess “China-ness,” based on PRC nationality, PRC national origin, Chinese ethnicity, or other expressions of connections with “China.” The Article further contends that, when assessed in light of the goals of deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution, it is worrisome that the prosecution and punishment of people and entities rests in part on a connection with “China.” A better path is to discard the “China Initiative” framing, focus on cases’ individual characteristics, and enhance the Department of Justice’s interactions with nongovernmental experts.

Keywords: China Initiative, People's Republic of China, Criminal Law, Department of Justice

Suggested Citation

Lewis, Margaret K., Criminalizing China (March 1, 2021). Margaret K. Lewis, Criminalizing China, 111 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 145 (2020)., Available at SSRN:

Margaret K. Lewis (Contact Author)

Seton Hall Law School ( email )

One Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102-5210
United States

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